Monday, 21 September 2009

Slowing down?

Trends are deceptive - but I haven't come back to this blogging in a while :)

I did my first Windows XP install for a while today for friends. Their machine had slowed to a crawl and _needed_ a disk format and reinstall. Three sets of media to find, three sets of 20 digit codes to type in. Printer software not found - so they'll have to go and download a huge program bundle from the manufacturer's site. [And it always takes an alleged 39 minutes from first reboot irrespective of the actual speed of the hardware :) ]

New hardware put in - a DVD writer to replace a CD writer which had lasted ten years and moved between at least two machines - that's spectacular in this day and age. The new drive is also 10% of the cost of the old one - £17 instead of about £200.

Total time to put on Windows XP, an AV product, get Firefox and to get part way through an Office 2007 install was about three hours. That's without setting up any accounts, shared directories (or network - the attached wireless router didn't need any changes).

I could do a Debian install onto the 40G disk in well under half that to include X windows,, iceweasel and a desktop environment. It would also run far better in 512M which is what this machine has.

Thankfully, they have data backups and an older laptop which has been the family workhorse - and a new netbook which attached to the network readily, has more disk than all other machines in the house combined, and cost less today than the "big machine" cost ten years ago at about 3 x the performance.

Intelligent questions were asked about Linux - I _wish_ I'd known about Ken Starks' radio advert or had it to hand at the time. See the Blog of Helios at for details - it's Free/Libre/Open Source under a CC Atttribute Share-alike 3.0 licence, and is available in a short version used in the radio advertisement .ogg or .mp3 or the longer version (.ogg .mp3 All in all, a balanced and a reasoned argument for switching based on nearly everybody's real life experience :(

[UPDATE] - The owner of the machine was up until 1 a.m - 11 hours total - because the machine decided to do a defrag. :(

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

WiFi, GSM _and_ Bluetooth?

Just for fun on a Sheevaplug - add a powered four port USB hub. Inspired by the fact that a cheap Bluetooth dongle was recognised out of the box, I added a Netgear WG111v2 (rt8187 driver) and the Huawei GSM/3G E220 dongle to the hub. All were recognised in the 2.6.30 kernel and ID'd correctly.

Given that the Sheevaplug has GB Ethernet and the power to be a good firewall - this might make an ideal multi-gateway for an emergency / conference or whatever.

I haven't actually configured up any of the wireless interfaces - but all should work, though the RT8187 may be only 22Mb and may not support WPA2 - I can't remember.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

ACPI for Acer Aspire [SOLVED] - and RHCT

As a follow up to the last post - and with many thanks to PC World tech. support staff :)

This happens occasionally: the fix recommended at the barbeque was to remove power cable and battery for a period of time and try again. It transpires that you need to remove the battery and power cable AND also press the on/off button for 30-60 seconds which resets the laptop motherboard ACPI status. Who'd have known ? :)

Also, I'm now a Red Hat Certified Technician - if anybody should ever need one of those in a hurry. My day job is keen on Red Hat and the firm paid for the course. My thanks go also to them for their patience with me over some years - and to the Red Hat instructor who knows me fairly well. I had to promise not to mention Debian for the week so as not to disconcert the other students :)

Monday, 31 August 2009

Madly dysfunctional family barbeque

At Steve's house in Cambridge. First Debian party I'd been to. House full of people I knew only from email, some very old friends. Wires and leads filling the front room floor - laptops _everywhere_ . [My netbook died with nasty ACPI errors - since fixed/worked around - it was practically the one place in the world where I could yell for an ACPI expert and folk knew what I was talking about :) ]

I wish I'd taken a camera - I was there for 1/2 hour before I realised I was only about three feet from a large TV which then became the focus for competitive Wii Fit archery :) Thirty second rule on sofa space - if you left for more than about 30 seconds you had to sit on the floor when you got back (I jammed myself onto a corner of the sofa once I realised I'd barely get through the crush :) )
[Forget students in a mini / UK telephone box - how many DDs can you fit into a very narrow kitchen :) ]

It's a huge, dysfunctional family with its own rules, geeky humour and in-jokes but it's MINE - it's the people I want to hang out with and, as perverse as it sounds, just being there gave me a whole new reaffirmed sense of identity and a large amount of determination to carry on "wasting my time with Linux" and Debian

Thanks to those who signed my key for me (and Noodles who didn't sign but gave a very intelligent rationale as to why he couldn't at the moment :) )
Thanks to Steve for quintessentially being and being the perfect host - and I hope to be back next year. And the food was excellent - chilli popcorn comes highly recommended :)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

UKUUG conference and other pleasantries

To Birmingham (UK) on Friday and Saturday last week - first time ever :) Friday was a rather laid back tutorial day: I was learning about Arduino boards and playing a bit with electronics. Good fun - not least watching Phil Hands cursing Java and getting his hands dirty with the command line. Back on Saturday to represent Debian, man a T shirt stall and generally talk. I didn't go to any of the staged talks but did sell a couple of T's. Sheevaplug got some interest :) Lots of interesting people - all sorts of sideline conversations.

Moving computers on Monday: lots of muttering but I think I've got it sorted now: one computer needs connecting to keyboard/mouse/monitor purely to tell it to ignore errors when it hasn't got keyboard/mouse/monitor :( Smaller room so we'll see how it pans out: Desk has 1 mini-PC, speakers, 1 laser printer, 2 x wireless routers and 1 x 8 port switch, 1 x 4 port KVM, desk light, radio and tiny clock on top and 4 x tower cases underneath in 0.75 x 1.5m

Looking to republish useful snippets of blogs to illustrate an argument at (paid) work has meant that I have had to ask explicit permission from other bloggers/mailing list contributors. For any bloggers/contributors in a similar position who may want to quote this drivel of mine in the future.

Boring legal bits
In the absence of any other more restrictive licensing from me, feel free to treat this blog as GPL version 2.0 or later / CC-BY 3.0 or later for the purposes of extracting any quotes or other information This relicensing applies to all prior posts in this blog. I'd prefer that you didn't misrepresent me so preservation of context where practicable is desirable but not essential.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Sheevaplug - now with Apache, X and KDE :)

If I'd had lots more money ($249 instead of $99) and been about a month later - before the current back order situation - I'd possibly have been tempted by an OpenRD board. [Think Sheevaplug in metal box, with audio, video, SATA disk connections also brought out]. As it is, I didn't get the chance.

Instead, and to help demonstrate the capabilities of the little box, I added some packages - it now has X Windows, KDE and Apache installed.

I opened up SSH to allow a friend to pick up the files needed to install up to date U-boot, the Debian base system from Martin Michlmayr and the "I bricked my Sheevaplug" alpha installer. He, in turn, took great delight in running various X applications on the Sheevaplug and has promised me screen captures :)

From Sheevaplug -> Atom machine -> cable modem with port forwarding -> cable modem with port forwarding -> firewall -> firewall -> his machine and STILL acceptable performance :)

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Now with added wifi :)

It looks as if an Edimax (Realtek rt73 chipset) USB wireless dongle may work with no other modules needing compilation. Thinking of putting Apache on and putting up a wireless web page - Saturday/Sunday is a UK Unix Users Group (UKUUG) conference in Birmingham. Debian should be in attendance and it would be cool to have a web server small enough to fit in my pocket.

I could take complete Debian and Ubuntu archives - but the terabyte disk is about four times the size of the server and wirelss dongle together.

So, for the person that asked me what I was going to do wth the Sheevaplug - that might be a start :)

Sheevaplug - now with added SD :)

Now working and running off an 8 GB SD card. The trick was to get the machine booting off USB and then use that to force booting from SD card.

Thanks once again to the people who took time out to help me with U-boot.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Key added, now syndicated on Planet Debian?

Thanks due for all the help I've received from Benjamin Mako Hill and others. This post should now arrive on Planet Debian.

Still struggling with a Marvell Sheevaplug: I've now got it to (not quite but Oh so nearly) boot: if you remove the SD card it whines - and recognises the partition layout - but doesn't boot from it, hanging on a "waiting for boot prompt"

The next trick is to try an install to a 4G USB stick and see if that works, then try and get new/different SD cards to try. WARNING - the supplied USB cable for serial console is significantly short and weak :)

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A tiny server

A server in a plug top format (10.5 cm (H) x 7 cm (W) x 4cm ( D)) at 2W or so for the 1.2 GHz CPU. 1 x SD slot, 1 x USB, 1 x GB Ethernet. 512M of flash memory on board. No WiFi on board, though it will presumably take a USB dongle without a problem.

The snags for the maintream: it only runs Linux: it runs on an ARM processor and this is, in essence, a developer's board (the Sheevaplug from Marvell). It runs Ubuntu immediately on boot up, so will run any other Linux with an armel port.

Portable webserver for conferences / advertising? Telemetry / remote sensing data monitor? Home heating controller? Ham radio rotator controller + data terminal equipment?

Just familiarity - or is it "free can't be worth the effort" ?

Something from my father - he knows he's paying far more for a netbook with Windows, he's aware of the so-called "Windows tax" - but he wants familiarity (Windows XP or better).

He's considering a full size laptop - but only to play DVDs on / watch TV in bed via BBC iPlayer. He wouldn't consider buying a Linux netbook and a 22" TV / monitor because "the screen's too expensive" - but he'd happily spend the money for a laptop with only a 15.6" screen. Then he'll have to buy AV and so on ... My £179 Acer Aspire netbook does BBC iPlayer fine - and Open Office and whatever else - and is almost entirely silent . A 22" screen is £129 or less.

For those who aren't sure what they want: is it economics (something that cheap can't be good / why don't I need to buy AV) or fear that keeps them from Linux?

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Hell freezes over

The entirety of Canonical is now open source - that includes all the infrastructure (Launchpad, Soyuz) which was formerly closed source.

This has been intended for some time and Canonical faced significant criticism from some sectors of the FLOSS community that they relied on closed source programs. Good to see someone follow through.

Microsoft have released Windows driver code under the GPL

This may allow Linux to run on top of Windows server editions running Hyper-V virtualisation.Not much - SCSI, IDE and Ethernet drivers, apparently - but they are released under the GPL. Microsoft have already entered into virtualisation cross licensing with Red Hat some months ago, so Red Hat Enterprise Linux is an obvious target platform here. It's under GPL - so every distribution can do this in short order and Microsoft is now using the OS and licence once described as cancerous by Steve Ballmer and actively contrbuting.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

A cross platform shortlist of software

A shortlist of useful software:

Mozilla Thunderbird - sadly not yet updated to match Firefox

Mozilla Firefox


and, for those who want to be Unix-alike on Microsoft Windows


All runnable on Windows such that you can have commonality between Windows and Linux, Firefox and VLC may also be available for one or more of the BSD variants and Solaris

Social media - new, or just old, rewritten in brighter colours

A colleague is trying to interest me in social media - Facebook, Twitter - the wisdom of crowds and open participation - the documentary Us Now and Clay Shirky's book "Here comes everybody"

He doesn't quite see that I've been living this lifestyle for 15 years - mostly on email and very occasional IRC - and that I repose a far greater trust in FLOSS developers I've never met than almost everybody geographically close.

My FLOSS colleagues range from college professors to Dutch Reformed Church ministers to a free thinker living in a yurt, gay, straight, transgender. in every continent bar Antarctica - and that's just the Debian folk and possibly a couple of others I can think about

Whether blogging makes every person their own printer and propagandist, as Luther made every man his own minister and Gutenberg every man his own reader remains to be seen. FLOSS allows every one to be his/her own engineer or at least to be part of an enthusiastic community of collaborators.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Strictly FLOSS

Free Libre/Livre Open Source Software - an irrelevance for many, a distraction for some - and an obsession for a few :)

What do you _do_ with all this stuff, why is it useful, why is it interesting?

Everything, just because, because its different and moving so fast that your knowledge from 15 years ago may as well be from another lifetime.

FLOSSLinux, life and other distractions

It's been an interesting 15 year ride with Linux and FLOSS thus far for me. I'll share what I know, ask what I don't know and generally give back where I can.

Why computers - maybe it's in my genes - my grandfather gave me books on radios and analog computers :)

Why FLOSS - [Free/Libre/Livre/Open Source Software] - why not?

Why the questions ?